Turning to religion helps dying people to find meaningfulness in life


Dying is extremely mystified phenomenon in our world. We are scared of dying and we would do anything to avoid the dreadfulness of it. Now a new dissertation from the University of Helsinki argues that turning to religion in the face of death can actually improve quality of life and overall end-of –life experiences. But how do scientists know that?

Religion helps feeling meaningfulness even when death is very close and unavoidable. Image credit: Graeme Darbyshire via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Firstly, we have to mention that this dissertation is still to be defended and it is going to go through this process at the Faculty of Theology – it is not a medical research. However, its findings are quite interesting, because they report on feeling and experiences of people dying. Religion is not as big of a part of our lives as it used to be several ages or even decades ago, but for some people it is a crucial framework of life, which comes to mind even more often when a person is sick and dying.

Matti-Pekka Virtaniemi, author of the study, followed six people diagnosed with ALS – incurable progressive neurological disease, leading to death over the course of a couple years. PhD student was interested to see how living conditions change and how they affect person’s attitude. The overall goal was to see if these people can still feel meaningfulness of life at such critical moments. That is a big issue – people feel dissociated and give up, meaning that months left to live are often worse than they could be. Interviews, conducted three times over a course of the year, spawned some surprising results – positive attitude was not affected by declining physical state.

Three out of four patients interviewed in the study mentioned religion as an important detail helping them maintain positive attitude towards the end of their life – it helped them experience meaningfulness in life. The doctoral candidate said: “The ultimate concerns in life may change and become less frightening. However, they remain active issues for as long as there is life. In addition, the sources of meaning in life can change”.  The sources of this meaningfulness, mentioned by interviewees, were: close relationships, work, helping others, nature, life itself, personal growth, hope and a connection to the God. While cause of concern were the inevitable future and death, the pain of respiratory difficulties, the choice of whether to use a permanent ventilator which can prolong life, as well as loss of independence.

Dying is a frightening truth of life to accept. If some people find comfort in religion, it is good for them, because even at the end of their life, when death is imminent, they can still be hopeful.


Source: University of Helsinki

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